Sunday Ramblings: The Blossoming Kowhai

Kowhai Sketch by Walter Logeman

When I asked Michelle Leanne Bunt for a picture that best represents her she gave me two options. A kowhai blossom, or a Vincent Van Gogh picture.

Why the Kowhai bloom? I asked her.

Because it is a very Kiwi thing. And she is very much Kiwi.

But more than that it was metaphorical for her.

“Someone who was quite influential in my life at the time, gave me a Kowhai tree for my 20th birthday, and said it was a metaphor for the journey I was on. That I would plant the tree, water the tree, and the roots would grow down deep and strong into the ground, and in the right season, I like the Kowhai tree, would blossom into being.”

In a recent article Michelle wrote for The Equals Record, she speaks a little bit about this “blossoming into being”. She mentions dealing with oneself, and most importantly loving oneself. She speaks a bit about that here with us.

Tell us about Michelle.

Haha – this is such a hard question!! I’m so not used to talking about myself. Well, where to begin. I’m 28 years old. I live in Dunedin, New Zealand. I am happily single, but have one “child” – my cat Jaxx. She is a source of much happiness for me. I’m quite a spiritual person and I’m studying to become a counsellor, but also working part-time with people with disabilities. In my spare time I read, go tramping, bake, and watch obscure TV shows.

St Clair Beach at Sunrise, Dunedin, New Zealand.

In your piece you said that you grew up with schizophrenic parents, with disabilities. That must have been quite a journey. 

My parents got divorced about a month before my fourth birthday, and I lived with my dad. Initially things were mostly ok, but then my dad’s illness spiralled out of control. By the time I reached high school age, my dad had already threatened to kill me several times, and tried to strangle and stab me. By the grace of God, I was never physically hurt in any of these incidents, but psychologically it was extremely damaging.

With my mum, the relationship was not abusive, but it was neglectful. To be honest I don’t actually know which is worse. My mum was so consumed by her illness, she just couldn’t really acknowledge me, or interact with me. Which is why nowadays I feel closer to the person who serves me at the supermarket, than I do to my own mother.

I think the predominant feeling I had as a kid was fear, because of these experiences, and it made me afraid of everything, because I couldn’t trust that the world was a safe place, and I couldn’t trust people not to hurt me.

So how did you cope?

I retreated into myself, and developed a coping mechanism which allowed me to lock my feelings away. It was very effective as it allowed me to function during my childhood years and not get overwhelmed. The only problem is you can’t lock your feelings and responses away forever: at some point they will surface and need to be dealt with.

And then what?

My journey didn’t really start until I left home, moved cities and started counselling. Therapy for me is the most amazing thing in the world, and I have been blessed to have several counsellors over the years walk this path with me, and offer their encouragement. They are like my cheerleaders; they believed in me, even before I did, and I seriously doubt that I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for their support.

But I think my decision to “get a better life” was there right from the beginning. Even as a kid, I realised that we really only have two choices to how we respond to things: to choose life or to choose death. Life to me means choosing abundance, constructive ways of dealing with things, and most of all aiming to thrive not just survive. Back then my life was (very literally) about survival, but I guess I always had greater plans than that.

On the turns I have taken on my journey, I guess I see the turns as being the process I embarked on as an adult. While I knew I wanted to thrive, not just survive, I had a hard time figuring out how to do that. There is no roadmap or blueprint for the interiour journey. I really think the answers look slightly different, and take differing amounts of time for everyone. So I was just going along for quite some time, and hitting a lot of dead ends, and despairing about the fact that I was hitting these dead ends. Now that I am here now, I wish I could go back and tell the “me” from the past, that it’s ok, the dead ends are all part of the process.

So how are things different now?

The difference for me is like the difference between night and day. I feel alive! I think what has made the difference is persistence. There were many moments along this journey where I really wanted to give up (life), but I didn’t. I laid low for a while and re-gathered my strength, but I never gave up. What is exciting for me though, is this is not the end of my journey. What I achieved is just a beginning. I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m looking forward to it.

I find though that we often slip back into old mindsets. How do you manage that?

It’s interesting that you ask this question, actually. I have had a blissful few months since the epiphany I mentioned in my personal essay. I have truly felt invincible as a result of this epiphany. However I always knew that this “honeymoon” state wouldn’t last forever, and true enough, it has been wearing off. Not that I know it any less, but just that the initial euphoria is gone, and now everyday life and stresses are settling in, I have slipped back into old (negative) thoughts a few times. But what I’m finding encouraging is how quickly I am able to turn that around, and get back on track. One thing I have found to be crucial is to not vocalise negative thoughts. Sometimes thoughts just happen, I can’t always control them at the time, but if I don’t allow them a chance to speak, they soon fade, and can’t put down roots and take up home in the mind.

You also talk a lot about “loving yourself”. What does that really mean?

To me, loving yourself means living with self-compassion. Most people think loving yourself means having good self esteem. Self esteem is great, but I think self-compassion is greater still. The difference for me is that self esteem is based on looking at yourself and thinking I am good at this, this and this, therefore I have worth; self compassion on the other hand looks at your failings and weaknesses and sees the beauty in them.

I think it takes real courage and generosity to love yourself. In order to love ourselves, we must first know ourselves. This is scary!!

What are the things you constantly remind yourself to remember?

This changes depending on what areas of my life I’m developing in at the time, but currently I like to remind myself that “it’s ok to go slow”. As a result of my childhood, there are a lot of parts of my life that I have had to play catch up in, and I have a tendency to get impatient with myself, and feel like I “should” be where everyone is at. What I have found though is that giving myself permission for things to take as long as they take, and trusting in the process, is a far more compassionate way to treat myself. When I am compassionate with myself, and living slowly, the whole world looks and feels different – I am more productive, and happier, and I stop worrying about all the little things.

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So, Readings 02 is coming up on Thursday, the 12th, at The Red Beanbag. We have a theme this time, The Red Balloon, so if this inspires anything bring it! Those who already have something to share, we are looking forward to hearing it.

And once again have a great week ahead, thanks for popping by and keep on reading!

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